A few weeks ago, Tuesdays with Laurie posted about Plans & Projects. She said that she was getting “That itch to empty the house and scrub it from top to bottom. Only putting half of everything back in and donating the rest.”
At the time, the fullness of what COVID-19 would become was not clear. “I won’t be scrubbing my house,” I thought. “I’ll be free, outside, in the spring!”
More fool me.
We’ve been social distancing for two weeks. I’ve been tackling plans and projects that I thought I’d be leaving until fall.
I cleaned my fridge. At the back corner of the top shelf of the fridge I found a jar of chokecherry jelly that I had bought at a Christmas craft fair. I’d forgotten about it.
(Remember when we could have craft fairs?)
This morning I had chokecherry jelly on toast. The flavour transported me instantly back to my childhood on the farm.
My brothers and I would pick the bitter fruit from trees that grew wild along our fences. The tiny red berries always looked so good. I’d put one in my mouth and screw up my face because of the bitter flavour.
My mother would take our buckets of chokecherries, boil them and add sugar. She’d strain the juice through cloth, and from that came a jelly with the distinctive flavour I love.
It’s one of my tastes of childhood.
There are others: fried bologna, fat green onions straight from the garden, biscuits and brown sugar.
When you think of your mother or father, what sayings come to mind?
For me, it’s my mother: “It’s a beautiful day. Get outside.”
I grew up on a farm, so outside for us meant playing games of hide-and-seek in and around the trees of the woodlot, swinging on homemade swings hung from the rafters of the barn, or skating on the frozen creek in winter. To this day, I can’t abide being indoors on a beautiful day, so my mother’s words served me well.
A person I follow on Twitter asked this question and got some interesting responses. My favourite: “If cows shit butter, you wouldn’t have to churn it.”
My mother would never have used those words, but she made the same point in other ways more times that I could count.
As parents we live day to day, tackling challenges as they come. We don’t realize there will be a through-line to our actions, that someday our children will attach an overall theme to how we tackled the parenthood job.
It made me wonder, how would my children answer that question, so I asked my daughter. I was hoping for, “Be kind,” or “Honour yourself and always be creative,” or “Don’t ever make yourself small to try please someone else.”
When I asked my daughter, she thought for a lo-o-o-ong time. “I don’t think you use sayings.”
“Oh, great. I’m boring,” I said.
“No, if anything it means that you really think before you say something,” she said.
Most years have 365 days, but leap years have an extra one.
I know that time is a human construct and all that, but when we have the gift of an extra day, we should take best advantage. This post is inspired by the poem “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. That poem ends with:
Tell me what else I should have done? | Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do | With your one wild and precious life?
The Extra Day
Where to be today? Who to spend it with? What makes my soul leap, like the day?
There is a place.
The one where I plug in to recharge, where each face is love reflected, where the synapses of my brain snap with new ideas, faster and deeper, where the rainbow falls on the tree of life.
Reassurance and growth.
Wisdom and compassion.
This is where people are SEEN, where peace is made, where we question how to live, where graces falls on us all.
This is where I dance “Like a Prayer,” I travel on pilgrimages, and where my head sizzles.
Here, children’s laughter ripples through the air. I thrill in their sparks of insight, and their truckloads of questions. Here is where I say, “I don’t know.”
In this place, people are fed, body and soul, smiles right the world, and friends embrace in tight hugs.
Spicy soup simmering, tart, sweet pies, pinkie squares.
Guitar strings strumming, harmonious voices, organ crescendos.
A silent night of candles and tears.
This is where I am.
A place of steadfast friendships, where good grows out of my mistakes.
Wisdom and compassion. Healing through hardship and celebration after the light returns.
Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Do you have a place like this? May you find it and spend this gifted extra day there.
It’s Pancake Day, a Lenten tradition with roots in the Jewish history of the Christian tradition.
On the day before Passover in observant Jewish homes, the family cleans thoroughly and uses or removes any food that has leaven in it. It’s a symbolic way to let go of old life and embrace the new. Christians morphed this idea into Pancake Day, a time to use up eggs and fats in decadent foods before the deprivation of Lenten fasts began.
Few people I know “give up” anything for Lent anymore.
Some have abandoned organized religion because they see only the harm that it can cause.
Others are still a part of a faith community but don’t “give up” because they see that as punitive instead of inspirational.
Still others don’t “give up” something they love in a way that feels like deprivation or punishment. They examine their lives to find something that is not feeding them mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually, and they give themselves “freedom from” that harmful element.
The minister at my church says Lent is like the time between when a seed is planted and when it sprouts. You know the seed needs to be nourished, but you can’t see any signs of new life yet.
No matter what you believe, this time of year is good for reflection. It’s a time to ponder what you can give yourself freedom from, or what you could take up instead.
Whether you eat pancakes tonight or not,take some time to plant a seed. Nourish it until new life grows.
The crowd crammed into pews until there was no elbow room. And then the crowd crammed in some more. When every inch of every pew was full, ushers scurried to bring extra chairs to the aisles, front to back.
An overflowing multi-faith, multi-generational, multi-cultural assembly gathered to celebrate the life of Alex McKeague, a man who lived 80-plus years to the fullest. “I’ve got to learn to live like Alex,” I thought.
If I dare.
It is not an easy road to extra chairs at your funeral.
To live like Alex, I would need to take action and not say, “I’m sure someone else will do it.”
To live like Alex, I would need to speak up for what is right, even when it is not the popular option.
To be truly alive like Alex, I would need to be the voice in the wilderness crying out for changes to make the world more compassionate, equitable, peaceful.
Alex founded the Carlington Chaplaincyin Ottawa to help feed and nurture residents of a challenged neighbourhood. He gave them more than food; he gave them potential.
Alex collected skates, tennis racquets, or hockey equipment for children in need. He gave them more than sports equipment; he gave them inclusion.
Alex rode his bike when he could, even during draining chemotherapy treatments. He gave us more than clean air; he gave us inspiration.
Alex tapped into some mysterious energy-force we would all love to find. Alex couldn’t coexist peacefully with injustices. He couldn’t overlook a need. He did more good work in a week than many people do in a year, or even a lifetime.
Sounds good. Sounds like what we all should be doing.
But most of us don’t. I don’t.
Most of us set up a wall of defensive excuses. I do.
I don’t have time today. There are programs in place for that. I’m afraid. That person is getting what he deserves.
Alex took action to change things when sticking to the status quo would have been easier—the tempting, deliciously attractive, effortless, risk-free status quo. He bravely stepped in where others feared to tread.
And he had another gift. He could lay out the difficult truths to resistant audiences and achieve the miracle of illumination. When Alex spoke in his quiet way, his soft handling of the hard truths encouraged us to join his vision for a better, more just world.
His quiet words held loud power.
Alex showed that deep, long-lasting happiness is a paradox. We think that to find happiness we need to focus on ourselves, and our emotional comforts, and material bonuses. We think happiness comes wrapped as a big screen TV. But the opposite is true.
Happiness doesn’t live in the mirror.
He turned his back on self-reflection and looked outward to fulfill the needs of others. He obtained a doctorate, but there was no “Call me Dr. McKeague” from him. He instructed his children not to make him “look like a big shot” at the funeral. He wanted the rewards of his actions to fall on those who needed the help, not on himself. It was okay with him that we all looked toward his causes, helping them, supporting them, only glancing back after he was gone to realize that he had been the foundation, the catalyst for so much good work.
Alex lived naturally to a standard that most of the rest of us find unnaturally difficult to achieve. It’s hard to get past fear and societal pressures.
What will people think? Obey the rules. Don’t rock the boat.
I’ll try. Because at Alex’s funeral I learned I want to live like Alex, so that when I die they will need lots of extra chairs.
This is a re-post from 2010. All these years later, I’m still trying . . .